Another dish from Provence, this time a bread called fougasse, a foccaccia-like ‘everything’ bread which varies greatly from region to region in France – some are loaded up with cheeses, meats and oils, while others are left quite plain, save for some black olives or chopped herbs. The one constant is its distinctive leaf-like shape, with darts cut into it to allow the farm worker to slip it over his shoulder as he headed to work. Supposedly.
I first encountered fougasse during a rather lonely fortnight in rural Orléans on a language exchange, and, alongside many other local delicacies (bread slathered with fleur de sel de Guérande butter; super sweet cherry tomatoes growing beside a tiny swimming pool; leftover canapés), fell swiftly in love with it.
I looked for a recipe for fougasse online and while all of them looked undeniably elegant (rosemary and red onion, for example) they didn’t sound like the one I had in the bakery section of Auchan all those years ago. Yes, Auchan. Say what you like about hypermarkets, but with all that cheese and so many tiny cubes of salty, smoky bacon, this bread was indescribably good.
Fougasse would be a great bread to serve at a party, as its leaf-like shape makes it easy to tear and share, and the toppings and fillings make it seem more like real food. They also make it delicious. Tear up part of one of the loaves, and leave it beside the other to give your guests an idea of what to do. Serve the bread along with small bowls of good quality olive oil, a couple of dips (pounded salami paste nduja would be nice; as would a broad bean dip) and something fizzy and alcoholic.
Makes two medium-sized loaves – I made mine with silky thin pancetta, Gruyère, sliced red onion and lots of fresh and dried herbs but you can use whatever takes your fancy. Next time I’ll probably use cubes of pancetta to get a really strong bacon flavour.
500g strong white flour
1.5tsp dried yeast
300ml warm water
1tsp herbes de Provence
1tsp fennel seed
100g pancetta lardons
100g Gruyère + 25g cheddar, grated
1 red onion, thinly sliced
Mix the sugar and salt into the flour and rub in the butter. Stir in the herbs and the yeast and pour the water in. Stir it with a spoon and then bring it together with your hands. Knead the dough on a floured work surface for eight minutes then return it to the bowl, cover it with clingfilm and leave it in a warm place to double in size for an hour or so. If you’re using lardons, fry them till crisp and well-cooked and drain off most of the oil. Add the sliced onion and fry just for a minute or two. Leave to cool. Knead about half of the grated cheese into the dough and then knead the bacon and onion pieces into the dough on a floured work surface. Divide the dough in two and roll each half out into a long elongated oval, placing it onto a parchment-lined baking tray. Cut darts into the dough with a sharp knife and pull it into the typical fougasse shape (=> Google Images). Leave to prove for 20 mins while the oven heats up, to about 180 degrees c. Splash a little water into oven to create some steam. Cover the breads with more cheese, oil and whatever other toppings you want. Bake for 15-20 minutes and serve with more oil and herbs.
The fougasse is best eaten on the day of baking. If you have any leftover, cut chunks in half and bake them in a hot oven for about 15-20 minutes to make the most flavourful and delicious crackers.